The Whistleblower

The Whistleblower

Rachel Weisz as Kathy in THE WHISTLEBLOWER. Photo Credit: Cary Fukunaga / Samuel Goldwyn Films.

The Whistleblower (2010/2011)

Opened: 08/05/2011 Limited

Limited08/05/2011
Sunshine Cinema08/05/2011 - 09/01/201128 days
Lincoln Plaza08/05/2011 - 09/01/201128 days
Laemmle's Play...08/05/2011 - 08/25/201121 days
Laemmle's Town...08/05/2011 - 08/25/201121 days
The Landmark08/05/2011 - 08/25/201121 days
AMC Empire 2508/05/2011 - 08/11/20117 days
Fallbrook 708/19/2011 - 09/01/201114 days
Clearview Chel...08/26/2011 - 09/08/201114 days
Claremont 508/26/2011 - 09/01/20117 days
Sunset 5/LA08/26/2011 - 09/01/20117 days
Kendall Square...09/02/2011 - 09/22/201121 days
Laemmle's Musi...09/02/2011 - 09/08/20117 days
Laemmle's Moni...09/09/2011 - 09/15/20117 days
DVD01/24/2012

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Facebook

Genre: Thriller

Rated: R for disturbing violent content including a brutal sexual assault, graphic nudity and language.

Synopsis

Inspired by actual events, Kathy (Academy Award® winner Rachel Weisz) is an American police officer who takes a job working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Her expectations of helping to rebuild a devastated country are dashed when she uncovers a dangerous reality of corruption, cover-up and intrigue amid a world of private contractors and multinational diplomatic doubletalk. Directed by first time filmmaker Larysa Kondracki, the film also stars Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and Academy Award nominee David Strathairn.

Production Notes

The Whistleblower is a film that harkens back to the Golden Age of American independent cinema from the early 70's, yet at the same time is an inherently modern interpretation of the political thriller. Like any broad reaching story, its genesis was relatively modest -- in the early 2000s, director Larysa Kondracki was based in New York conducting research on what would soon be her feature debut. Born and raised in Toronto, she grew up with strong ties to the Ukrainian community there and used that as inspiration for the story that she wanted to tell. She explains, "As a Ukrainian, it was important to me to tell the story of trafficking, but what I had no idea was just how broad the crime was." Early on in the process, she came across the story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop that ended up blowing the whistle on what was to be one of the greatest cover-ups in the history of the United Nations. "Once I read about Kathy, I contacted her," states Larysa, "and asked Eilis Kirwan, my co-writer to come on board. We knew it was a very big story at the time."

It was a very big story which had long-reaching ramifications for international social policy, law and human rights. Surprisingly enough, even though it received tremendous attention in the press and with the overall public in Europe, Bolkovac's lawsuit was relatively unknown on the other side of the Atlantic. Similar to the modest beginnings of the film, the actual true-life story started simple enough -- a single mother wanting to provide for her children. This single mother just happened to be a celebrated police officer from Nebraska, and intrigued by the opportunity, she jumped at the chance to travel to post-war Bosnia under contract by the UN to police international law. Bolkovac states, "I came in as a very naive Midwestern cop wanting to do the right thing, wanting to bring justice to a lawless world, and I found lawlessness within my own ranks... in the end it was a real awakening for me."

Kathy arrived in Bosnia in 1999. She quickly learned the rules that applied back home in the States were no longer, in a place that had faced years of internal strife. She had actually been aware of the situation much earlier and felt she had a calling to go: "A few years prior to me going to Bosnia, I had been sitting on my sofa in Lincoln, Nebraska watching the war in Bosnia on TV. Seeing the faces of what could have been my relatives because my family has Croatian roots. At that time I really felt like I was going to be there someday but really never knowing in what capacity it would be...it sounded like a worthy cause, something I could really learn from and wanted to do." Once hired to go, Kathy began to have misgivings about the situation she was about to enter and the people with whom she would be working. When asked if she had a definitive moment where she realized something was wrong, Bolkovac explains, "There were clues before I left Fort Worth, Texas. A gentleman, I use the term very loosely, sitting with us by the pool having a casual beer, announces to the crowd that he knew where to find really nice 12 to 15-year-olds. That stuck in my mind, I registered it, I checked it but really tried to get rid of it. But when I got to Bosnia and started seeing the brothels and running into these women and investigating these crimes it all came back to me. It was so clear to what he was talking about...and then I had to find out for myself the truth."

Bolkovac would make an impression during her time in Bosnia, as she quickly established herself as an individual that brought a lot of real-world experience to her job. Madeleine Rees, who is played by Vanessa Redgrave in the film, was head of Women's Right and Gender Unit at the time. She says, "It was in 1999, 2000 that real issues of trafficking for purpose of sexual exploitation were being established. Kathy...was identified fairly early on as someone who had a great deal of experience in domestic violence...It seemed obvious that she would be a perfect candidate to come and work with us on the policing angle of combating trafficking." It was because of who Kathy is as a person that she discovered a far greater issue at hand -- the involvement of the "peacekeepers" in trafficking young women. Rees goes on to explain, "Because she is an investigator by training but also by instinct she couldn't let it go. She couldn't just do what she was told to do...she went to the bars, she saw the guys in the bars. She was reporting that to her superior officers and to me. Gradually it was becoming more and more evident that there was far, far greater numbers of men involved from the international police task force and from international organizations that we had any idea of."

It was this realization and her need to confront the truth that put Bolkovac in a precarious position. "For me it was really shocking," Bolkovac explains, "because I felt that my motives were genuine and I was here to help. I wasn't here to hunt down police bad guys...When I began investigating the internal corruption involvement of our own police forces and our own internationals in the sick world of trafficking, I didn't expect the backlash that I got." As she dug deeper and deeper, the situation became untenable and because she was a threat to the face of the rebuilding project in Bosnia, the powers that be found an excuse to fire her. Bolkovac, being the person she is, filed a wrongful dismissal case against her employers and finally cleared her name in 2001.

It was the following year that Larysa reached out to Bolkovac who was now living in the Netherlands and arranged a meeting between her, Kathy and co-screenwriter Eilis. There was almost an instantaneous mutual appreciation of what each woman brought to the table. Bolkovac remembers, "there was something about Larysa. She just sounded so hungry... so authentic. I thought, why not give [the story] to her... never in a million years did I think it would amount to this." Eilis remembers her first impressions of Bolkovac: "she's funny and she's a mom and she has weird ringtones on her phone. She's not some po-faced, self righteous lady. She's just somebody who was in a situation who saw something was happening that she didn't think was ok...She could have been my mom, or me, or anyone I know, in a way. And that made it such an interesting story once we knew who she was."

More importantly, the filmmakers felt they had found someone whose story fully covered the story that they wanted to tell. Explains Larysa, "you realize that Kathy's story was the strongest. What she went through encompassed every aspect of it -- you had the anti-trafficking industry, you had the UN, you had the girls' story and then you had Kathy's personal story...We realized through development that Kathy experienced them all." Once the initial script was completed, it created a tremendous amount of buzz in the industry, first being set up at Focus Features and then at HBO Films. It was when the filmmakers decided to forgo the system and approach the project from an independent perspective, the pieces quickly fell into place. The greatest piece of them all was who was going to play the multi-faceted Kathy, a lead that could tackle the hard-charging public persona but balance it with the tender mother on the private side.

Enter Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz. She had actually read the script several years prior while she was pregnant with her first child and felt not in the right headspace to tackle such an emotionally resonant film. However, the power of the script stayed with her and a short while later she actually reached out to the filmmakers to see where the project was and very quickly was back right in the thick of things. For Rachel, the script personifies the main theme that she is attracted to -- "ordinary women who do extraordinary things." She goes further, "It's not really a moral question to her whether or not to act and to do something and blow the whistle... or to step in where she sees injustice. I don't think she thinks about it. I think it's just purely who she is, and she is one of those people who cannot be anything other than who she is. And that's pretty extraordinary."

Extraordinary is also a word to describe Rachel's performance in the film. Once Rachel reached out to the filmmakers, Larysa knew that they had finally found their Kathy. Simply in reflecting upon the variety of characters that Rachel has played throughout the years, Larysa asserts that, "she hasn't boxed herself into a corner" and, "there's not one role that defines her... she's a real actor." It is obvious that this feeling is shared by Kathy herself who, looking back on a meeting between her and Rachel, says of Rachel, "we hit it off right away. She's very kind and she's just the kind of person I would like to play me. I see a lot of thoughtfulness in her, a lot of maturity... I just see her getting it."

With Rachel on board, the rest of the acclaimed cast came together. Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave plays Kathy's mentor and confidant, Madeleine Rees. Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (who played opposite Weisz in Wong-Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights) is Peter Ward, a friend of Madeleine's that helps Kathy navigate Internal Affairs. The Danish actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Angels & Demons) is Jan van der Velde, Kathy's contemporary in Bosnia and the man she ultimately falls in love with. Rounding out the cast is the Italian actress Monica Bellucci (Irreversible, The Passion of the Christ) who plays the head of a NGO and represents the bureaucracy that Kathy is up against.

ciple photography commenced in and around Bucharest, Romania in late October of 2009, and would continue through the mountains of Transylvania, establishing shots in Bosnia and wrapping up several days in Toronto. Filming in Eastern Europe was essential as Larysa explains, "Locations are a character. Especially in a story such as this, where it's more about what you don't see, so you need to create that world. A lot of it is Kathy putting these clues together...That sense of discovery, that process of Kathy putting together all these worlds and how they connect, it's something you can only really get on location."

According to Larysa, what she really wanted to do was to, "create a film that you're engaged with, and then afterwards say 'how much of this is true?'". What Larysa wants her audience to know is that, "...this is happening... it's actually much worse and [it's] continuing to happen, and that really we need more people like Kathy." Eilis continues by adding, "when we decided to tell this story about trafficking and about the fact that this happens to young women, happened and still happens, it was really important for us to have a character in the film that the audience got to know on some level beyond 'I am an abstract victim'." This they accomplished with the character of Raya, played superbly by the young Romanian actress Roxanna Condurache. Raya, to great effect, is the vehicle Larysa and Eilis use to connect the audience to the brutality of the crime of sex trafficking and to express the fear and psychological torture that the girls involved must endure. "It's very important the audience gets to know in a pretty hard-hitting way what these girls go through," says Eilis. "Even though it is sometimes difficult material to sit and watch as an audience and to write, frankly...it can't stay abstract in anyone's mind anymore." And Larysa hopes that not only will the audience come to really understand the nature of this crime and to see the girls as not just abstract, intangible victims, but that, "it sparks a huge debate. I think it needs one."

 

Trailer